Welcome to The Rundown….
It was mid December 1992. A month prior the nation had just elected Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to become the next President elect of the United States over incumbent President George H.W. Bush and billionaire tycoon H. Ross Perot. There was an air of something….new floating around. You could feel it. Something fresh and exciting. Christmas was right around the corner.
It was flat top haircuts and fades. Cross Colours and Boss clothing. Fat herringbone chains, loud colors. Flannel was in and everyone had some. Amy Fisher was all over the news for shooting the wife of her lover Mary Jo Buttafucco. She got 5-15 years behind bars. Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino was the hot movie at the theaters, along with Home Along 2 and A Few Good Men.
On television, a month prior, “The Jacksons, An American Dream” premiered as a 2 part mini series on ABC averaging 36 million viewers. “Rosanne” was the top weekly show on television, with other shows like “Murphy Brown”, “Cheers”, “Home Improvement” and “Wings” consistently in the top ten weekly. Other shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, “Martin” and “Beverly Hills 90210” defined the year and beginning of the 90’s. “The Simpsons” had moved to Thursday nights at 8pm…causing problems in households like mine across the country, because now we had to make a decision every week. We have 4 channels. We don’t have a VCR. DVR doesn’t exist yet. Are we watching “The Simpsons”? Or “The Cosby Show”? Decisions, decisions…..
Bobby Brown, Shai, TLC and Wreckx in Effect were some of the top acts in the country in music as hip-hop became even more mainstream. New country albums from Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus dominated the Billboard 200. The number one song in the country that week? Oh, this little gem from none other than Ms Whitney Houston (somewhere around the beginning of her relationship with none other than…Bobby Brown). Feel free to sing along for a bit….you know you’re going to….
As for me? I was a scrawny, 150 lb kid heading towards the middle of his freshman year at East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, NC. I had grown up knowing about the school my entire life. My father, Sherman Johnson, was an All State Center for the East Forsyth Basketball team in the late 60s that made a little noise in the area. He played in the East West All Star game and earned a scholarship to High Point (College at the time). As a young kid, I would pour over scrap books with the exploits of my 6’9″ father and his games, staring at the East Forsyth jerseys in black and white photos, gushing over the stat lines he put up back in the day. I had heard there was a newspaper article or picture of him in the old gym locker room somewhere. I had yet to find it. But I was looking.
When you’re 14, you’re at peak awkwardness. I don’t care how cool you pretended to be or who your older brother or sister is or if you played sports or an instrument. Everything you DO is awkward. Walking is awkward. Talking to girls is awkward. Trying to look cool in front of 18-year-old Seniors in your Chemistry class is awkward. “The Wonder Years” was one of my favorite TV shows ever…because the main character, Kevin Arnold, was my age. We were going through this age at the same time. It was….well….awkward.
Wandering around that December Monday, there was a feeling of excitement in the air on campus. Our Varsity Football Team had won the state championship Friday Night. I remember I had wanted to go to Chapel Hill to watch the game so bad. But when you’re a 14-year-old freshman, you’re a bit limited on how to get from point A to point B. None of my closest friends could drive at the time. My dad didn’t seem enthusiastic about a drive to Chapel Hill to watch a game in the cold. He was a truck driver during the day and after 11 hours in the cab of an 18 wheeler and 50 hour work week, the last thing he probably wanted to do was drive 2 hours to Chapel Hill, sit in the cold for 3 hours and drive back on a Friday night, even if it was his alma mater. So I didn’t make a big deal about missing the game. A friend that had just gotten his license had car trouble that Friday, so that option was out too. I tried to find a radio broadcast of the game and couldn’t. I had to wait until after 1130 pm to watch “Friday Football Fever” on the local CBS affiliate just to find out we had won the game. Remember, this was 1992. No Twitter. No Facebook. Hell, no cell phones.
So when we arrived on campus that Monday, the students knew we would do something to celebrate the team. We didn’t know what…but we knew we would do SOMETHING. Being 14, I didn’t really quite fathom what my Eagles had just accomplished. Yes they were the 4A State champs. And this was back when only 2 teams from each conference went, instead of today where half of all the schools in the state make the playoffs. It wasn’t watered down. It was HARD to win a state title. And this was the first state title in East Forsyth history.
I didn’t know that the team had made it to the state semifinals the year before…the state quarterfinals the year before that. I didn’t know that there was a group of guys on the team that had played varsity since sophomore year and had grown into this group of small town legends. I didn’t know that this was the final chapter of a 2-3 year journey for many of these kids.
What I did know, was that back then there was a big difference in a 14-year-old kid and a 18-year-old man. We traveled the same hallways together, ate in the same cafeteria, had classes together. But we might as well been in two different schools. They were simply BIGGER than us. I had some basketball players in my chemistry class and the seniors dwarfed us back then. I don’t know what they were eating back then, but whatever it was, it worked. These boys were not boys. They were grown men out here playing a man’s sport. And then going to 1st period Chemistry with…..me. It was intimidating. But I didn’t know that we dwarfed other TEAMS when we would go out and play. Our offensive line averaged around 250 lb and was anchored by two of the biggest guys I ever saw in my young life up to that point, Senior tackles James Clyburn and Gary Wadford. Both were around 290 lbs. No one had that in the area. I didn’t know that our QB, Joe Lagarde, was a once in a lifetime athlete…that would go on to make all conference in Football, Basketball AND Baseball….in the same season. No one had done that before…and as far as I can tell, no one has accomplished it since.
Throughout the season, I had gone to a few games. I remember watching us beat the life out of Carver 52-7. I remembered the Page game. It felt like we caused a million turnovers with our defense in 1992. I remember by halfway through the season, we the student body, collectively were no longer hoping for wins to continue. We had begun to EXPECT it. Crave it. It felt good to be the bullies on the block. The entire Kernersville community was behind the team by seasons end. You could feel that something special was happening.
Remember the scene in Varsity Blues where the football team is leaving for a road game and the town basically shuts down and a convoy of cars can be seen heading down a two lane highway to play some cross county rival? That’s how Kernersville felt in 1992. The town basically shut down on Friday nights that season. We were all Eagles.
Walking around Campus that Monday, which was now completely covered in toilet paper from the celebration, my mind flashed back to 3 days prior.
The Friday of the Championship game, we had a pep rally send off. We had a bunch of rallies that year, but this one was to send off our undefeated conference champs to Chapel Hill. They were going to be facing Northern Durham in the State 4A final. Northern Durham who was also 14-0 and were nationally ranked by USA Today. It was going to be a tough battle. Probably our toughest all year. We were going to send our boys off in style. That gym was LOUD. We were screaming our heads off for our Fighting Eagles. The Team was heading off to Chapel Hill on chartered buses immediately after the rally. We wanted to let them know we were proud of them. And that we knew they were ready to bring home a state title. Listen to that crowd. We never stopped screaming…..
Rare Footage from our State Championship Sendoff Pep Rally 12/11/92
But back to Monday. I was sitting in a class early afternoon when suddenly there was an announcement over the intercom.
“ALL STUDENTS PLEASE LEAVE CLASS AT THIS TIME AND JOIN US IN THE NEW GYM FOR A SPECIAL PRESENTATION…”
I looked around at others in my class. We knew what that meant. Pep Rally. The Mother of ALL Pep Rallies was about to take place in K-Vegas and we were all invited. The rest of the day was shot. We weren’t going to do much of anything else the rest of the day. We had a team to anoint.
I wandered out of class into the flow of screaming students heading towards the gym. Normally I had friends I could sit with during the rallies, but I couldn’t find any in the scramble to get to the gym. I ended up running into my friend Allan Norris, a fellow freshman. We walked to the gym together, unsure of what we were about to witness.
The gym was divided into four corners in the stands, for each class. The Freshmen were by the near door to the gym so it wasn’t hard to find where we needed to go. After the student body filed into the gym, we sat…and waited.
“I wonder what they are going to do to top the pep rally from Friday? ” Allan said to me as we stood in the stands, soaking in the scene.
I had no clue. The football team was all on the basketball court, huddled together. This pep rally felt different, like it was the end of something. There didn’t really seem to be a plan for what to actually DO at this pep rally. But it seemed that the faculty knew we needed to do something. I’m sure there is a story behind it all…but that’s for another time.
We were screaming and yelling at top decibel level. I remember The Student Body President took the microphone and again, they announced each member of the team, by name and number, to ravenous cheers and applause from all of us.
Then there was a brief lull, as if we were all waiting for something to happen. It was one of those moments you don’t think twice about while its happening…but you remember it for the rest of your life.
Someone had a boom box. Someone plugged said boom box into our PA system. And then, magically, the sweetest 6 minute sequence of sound you have ever heard rumbled out of the speakers…
Queen’s “We Will Rock You” is a simple song on the surface. Its basic “boom boom CLAP” percussion allows anyone to join into the ruckus at any time the mood suits you. This time, it hit a nerve. The gym, filled with 2000 students, separated by age, gender, race, religion, you name it…had a new theme. And we could all sing along. Everyone began to stomp the familiar percussion on the gym bleachers, creating one of the loudest environments Ive ever been in…to this very day. It was magic.
The football team led the cheers from the basketball court. “We Will Rock You” is a song that lasts all of two minutes and eleven seconds. But it gets its point across.
I found out that day, that “We Will Rock You”, when aired on the radio or played in general, is typically act one of two. As soon as the last guitar riffs ended, the next song played on the single.
The gym…for lack of a better word to describe it….lost its f&*$ing minds.
The Football team began to sing along. Every couple of seconds they would host a player onto shoulders for a curtain call. Pretty much everyone got a turn. The crowd reached ear damaging levels when the team lifted our star QB, Joe Lagarde, to the rafters. And then, after a couple of attempts, the line got all of 295 lb Gary Wadford on their shoulders. We loved every second of it. I can still remember the sounds of the screams, the smell of the gym, the looks of accomplishment on the faces of the players.
I’m not sure now looking back on that day, how long that pep rally really went, if there was anything said before or after that sequence. But that sequence stuck with me for the next 25 years and counting. These men had bonded on the gridiron. Some became best friends. Some keep in touch to this very day. But all the members of that football team shared in a feat that no one can ever take away from them. They rose to the occasion every Friday night. EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT. And I was a small part of it. I, along with the entire student body, faculty and staff of East Forsyth High School, 1992-93 school year, was a part of it.
I look back on that day in the gym surrounded by people who over the next 4 years would allow me to spread my wings, abandon the awkwardness, and eventually build a confidence in myself as I made many lifelong friendships, crushed on too many girls, found out what I was talented in, defined my dreams, graduated (Class of 96), went on to college and bigger and better things in my life. I moved my family back to Kernersville a few years ago, my wife and two young daughters, in part because of the schools here and deep down….I wanted my girls to eventually attend East Forsyth once they reached high school. I was and I am proud of my alma mater. I was there last year, cheering the 2016 Eagles on as they went 13-2 and lost in the State Quarterfinals. Whenever a good Eagles team comes through now, they are compared to the 92 Eagles. When ANY great team comes out of Forsyth County, they are compared to the 92 Eagles. In a weird way, the myth of the team has gotten even bigger with time. They are the 85 Bears of High School Football in this area, and I say that and type that with an extremely straight face.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 1992 State Champion East Forsyth Eagles. This is the beginning of an attempt to capture the moments of that historic trek to the State Championship and eventual national ranking from USA Today. And randomly, I still think back to that day in the gym at East, cheering on this collection of players…friends….brothers. It gives me a chill down my spine, goosebumps down my arms. But to understand how that group made it to that final pep rally in the middle of December, 1992…one has to go back. Back to where it all started. And that’s what I plan to do…….now. Because their story deserves to be told…..by them.
Next week…….Players, Coaches and Staff reminisce about the end of the 1991 season, getting ready for the 1992 with a purpose and the 1st half of the year.
Read more of “Myth Becomes Legend – The 1992 East Forsyth Football State Champs” here:
Desmond Johnson is the editor/Owner of SportsCarolina Monthly. He lives in Kernersville with his wife and two daughters. You can reach him at email@example.com